Salivary histatin 5 (Hst 5) is a cationic salivary protein with high fungicidal activity against Candida albicans. Binding to the cell wall followed by intracellular translocation is required for killing; however, specific binding components and critical toxic events are not understood. In this study, laminarin (beta-1,3-glucan) but not sialic acid, mannan or pustulan mediated Hst 5 binding to C. albicans, and was disassociated by 100 mM NaCl. Time-lapse confocal microscopy revealed a dose-dependent rate of cytosolic uptake of Hst 5 that invariably preceded propidium iodide (PI) entry, demonstrating that translocation itself does not disrupt membrane integrity. Cell toxicity was manifest by vacuolar expansion followed by PI entrance; however, loss of endocytotic vacuolar trafficking of Hst 5 did not reduce killing. Extracellular NaCl (100 mM), but not sorbitol, prevented vacuolar expansion and PI entry in cells already containing cytosolic Hst 5, thus showing a critical role for ionic balance in Hst 5 toxicity. Hst 5 uptake, but not cell wall binding, was blocked by pretreatment with azide or carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone; however, 10% of de-energized cells had membrane disruption. Thus, Hst 5 is capable of heterogeneous intracellular entry routes, but only direct cytosolic translocation causes cell death as a result of ionic efflux.